(NOTES: Here is some lingo info that may be helpful in reading these posts. Deer Park Monastery is in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is often referred to as Thay. The monks who reside at Deer Park are called Brothers and the nuns are called Sisters. The sisters reside in Clarity Hamlet and the brothers reside in Solidity Hamlet, about a 5-10 minute walk apart. The word hamlet comes from the french and means small village. While they are not really villages they are self-containing communities. The visitors who come to stay at the monastery, like myself and Mike, are often called lay friends.)
Sunday January 18th, 2015
I just finished a wonderful dinner of tofu, vegetables, and fried rice (which was a treat). One of my favorite parts of being here is that I get to have tofu pretty much every day, and sometimes twice a day! And the sisters and brothers make good tofu. At the end of the food table, where we dish up our bowls and plates, was a plate of cheeze-it crackers (a rare treat). I imagine they must’ve been donated to the sisters, as food and sweets often are, because the monastery is vegan and does not serve any food with dairy products in it. I put a few crackers in my pocket and enjoyed them on the walk back to my room after I finished my meal, the saltiness an enjoyable taste on my tongue.
Meals are very delicious here and also simple. The tastes vary but the ingredients stay very similar from day to day. For breakfast we can choose from oatmeal with optional alternative milks (soy and almond), cereal, nuts, raisins, and cranberries, breads with jelly or peanut butter, and a selection of fruit. This is our breakfast spread everyday. Lunch and dinner vary each day and usually include a buffet of white and brown rice, cooked veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, greens to name a few regulars), a tofu dish, and a fresh green salad. It is a great joy to be served so much good food everyday, lovingly prepared by the sisters and brothers.
This is the verse I say to myself before every meal:
This food is the gift of the whole universe
the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
May I eat in mindfulness keeping my compassion alive
by remembering that there are many who will not have enough to eat today,
who will not have access to clean water,
and will die of starvation and malnutrition.
I accept this food with gratitude and reverence for the life I am afforded.
After I’ve finished I recite this verse to myself:
This bowl, now empty,
was just filled with wonderful, delicious food.
May I take the energy and nourishment it provides me
and transform it into ____, ______, and ______
along my path of practice today.
(The blank spaces are for words that I change depending on what I would like to cultivate, what time of day it is, and how I’m feeling. I use words such as: mindfulness, joy, ease, rest, inclusiveness, kindness, solidity, and understanding)
Today was a day of mindfulness. We started with our 5:45am sitting followed by optional stick exercise and then had breakfast in the brothers dining hall. At 9:00am we met with all of those attending the day of mindfulness for songs and walking meditation. After the walking there was a dharma talk offered by one of the brothers followed by a 14 mindfulness trainings recitation and lunch.
Here are some notes I took during the brother’s talk:
If you are not skillful you will be pulled in many directions by your environment. We have to practice everyday to slow down, our environment is very important. When growing rice you have to know what the weeds are and pull them out so that the rice can grow well (our habits are the same). We must protect all of the doors into ourselves (what we consume through food and our senses ad our environment).
We have to build our boat well in order for it to be strong on the ocean and in good repair. (Just as we must cultivate ourselves well in order to weather difficulties and challenges that arise in life).
As a sangha builder and community organizer I am often thinking of how things will affect others, especially those that are new to the practice of mindfulness. Today we had many friends join us for the day of mindfulness and I was a bit uncomfortable with having them participate in the 14 mindfulness training recitation ceremony. I had wished there had been more explanation provided. There was an incense dedication done before our recitation which included a long chanting in vietnamese by Sister Abbess and many prostrations to the earth. So our new friends were bowing down on their knees with their foreheads on the ground not knowing why or what was being said. This made me concerned for them as beginning practitioners. I thought if that had been me at the beginning of practice I probably would not have returned or kept learning about mindfulness.
Many of our ceremonies, chantings, and sutra services are held in vietnamese. Usually we are given the english translations for them. I sometimes wonder how this tradition, with its strong vietnamese cultural background, will sustain into the future in our western world. While I see the merit of keeping the vietnamese elements alive in our practice I also think it can sometimes be a stumbling block to forward movement here in the west.
I visited the bookshop after lunch (which is only open during days of mindfulness in the brothers hamlet) and then Mike walked me back to my hamlet. It was nice to talk with him and I was a bit sad to part ways. I was very tired and went right to my hut for a long nap. I took a short walk after I woke up and then had dinner. And now here I am writing. And that has been my day dear friends. And I am happy I can share it with all of you :)